Google has many satellite offices around the world that give it a diverse talent base that may not want, or may not be able, to move to Mountain View to work out of its headquarters. One of those satellite offices is located in the affluent town of Boulder, Colorado, which straddles the Rocky Mountains making it ideal for people who like outdoor activities including hiking and skiing. Earlier this week the company broke ground on a new 330,000 square foot campus to replace its current setup in the town of employees working out of what used to be a Circuit City (remember those?).
Boulder’s City Council approved the new campus, which will compromise of three four-story buildings and an underground parking lot, back in 2014, much to the dismay of locals concerned about how it might impact cost of living and traffic congestion in the city. Those are common complaints whenever major technology companies expand in nearly any city around the world. Boulder’s population, for context, is just under 100,000, less during the summer when the city’s student population of 30,000 ventures out for vacation. The campus is expected to someday hold upwards of 1,500 employees, though, whereas Google currently employs just under 350 people in Boulder, so it’s no doubt going to lead to an influx of highly-paid individuals to the area.
“The unique environment of Boulder is what draws the new tenant of this office park and its employees to our town,” said Boulder-resident Paul Walmsley speaking to The Denver Post in December of last year. “Ironically, this development threatens that environment. … Monolithic office parks don’t belong in our residential and public commercial neighborhoods.”
Here’s more from The Denver Post:
Allison Davis, a Boulder native who lived in Mountain View, Calif., where Google is headquartered, before returning here, is also concerned about the project’s impact on housing prices.
“As Google expanded, they rapidly priced out those who had not been lucky enough to buy housing in Mountain View before 1990. A city can lose its feel easily in a decade, and I already see that happening in Boulder,” she wrote.
The comments above reflect a common sentiment among those locals who have voiced their opinions on the new campus. As someone from Boulder myself, though, it’s unfortunate to see because it puts out to display the wide divide that still exists between longtime residents and the burgeoning business community that’s growing between both the TechStars startup incubator — which is based in Boulder but has, like Google, opened new offices around the world — and the Leeds business school.
Nobody is interested in decimating the open trails and clean air that make Boulder so desirable, but the reality is that between federal labs and companies like IBM and Ball Aerospace, the technology and science industries are and have been a large defining part of the city for a long time, almost just as much as the geography. Recent data shows that Boulder has the highest concentration of engineers per capita of any US city (according to data from the White House), and software engineering is the most commonly held job in Colorado.
Consider also that many of the students coming out of the University of Colorado, Boulder who studied in fields including business and engineering would like to stay but end up leaving for other cities which have much more in the way of career opportunities for creatives, and there’s a lot of good to be lost to residents who make these communities feel unwelcome. The irony in it all is that tough restrictions on construction created by the community, like the cap on buildings being no taller than 55 feet, and excess land surrounding downtown Boulder being turned into public land so that it can’t be built upon, are big contributing factors to rising rent prices in Boulder, not too dissimilar from the situation in Google’s home of the San Francisco Bay Area.
“Google is a solid and stable business, a center for innovative ideas and thinking,” said Boulder City Council member Macon Cowles. “Google provides intellectual capital to the community that will spawn other companies and collaborations that will likely have a positive impact on the community and the wider world.”
That’s the especially big point here: San Francisco has been yet unmatched in its generation of wealth and innovation because it has both schools outputting tremendous talent and a cycle of companies creating millionaires which then turn around and give back to local entrepreneurs and community projects. There’s a case to be made about the bleak cost of living that’s already present in San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean Boulder’s whole technology community should be strangled in its cradle. There needs to be more push and pull from both sides, and at least in this case, Boulder’s leaders did the right thing. As noted last year by The New York Times:
The company also agreed to put a bike and pedestrian path through the middle of its campus, creating a public thoroughfare through the property.
And, of course, there are other benefits of having a big company like Google in town. For instance, it is likely to step up its hiring of graduates from the University of Colorado, Boulder — people who may not be able to stay in town if the local economy does not add jobs.
Not to mention that the food feeding Google’s employees at this campus will come from local communities, and all the money that its employees themselves will spend in the area.